You've almost certainly seen the blue barrels, usually near the checkout at the grocery store, where you can leave a donation for the God's Pantry Food Bank.
And maybe you've donated items at Thanksgiving.
But what you may not have realized is that your cans of green beans are just a tiny drop in the river of food that goes to needy Kentuckians through the work of this food bank, which is how the organization wants to be known now, to emphasize that it isn't a religious organization and it isn't small, like a pantry.
Founded in 1955 by Lexington native Mim Hunt, the food bank began as her efforts to alleviate needs she was astonished to see hiding in plain sight among relative affluence.
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Hunt had been living in New York, where she worked at the Henry Street Settlement House. A widow, she remarried and returned to Kentucky after World War II.
"I came into town and was so shocked that the conditions here were just as bad as New York, which were the most publicized slums in the world," Hunt said in a 2003 Herald-Leader interview. "I tried to get out of social work, but the more I tried to get out the further I got in."
She began distributing food, some of which came from an Episcopal bishop who had leftover disaster aid. That's where the name "God's Pantry" came from.
Hunt, who died in 2005, ran the pantry for more than 20 years with just volunteer help. By the 1980s, the food banking movement was gaining steam across the country as a way to provide a more reliable and vigorous source of help.
What began in Mim Hunt's station wagon now serves as the basic resource for all kinds of food assistance programs in 50 counties in Kentucky — ranging from the region's first high school food bank, opened recently at Bryan Station High School in Lexington, to direct aid to senior citizens in every county, to a low-cost supplier for after-school programs trying to reach hungry children through libraries and bookmobiles.
March is National Nutrition Month, but the need is there year-round, advocates say.
Last year, God's Pantry Food Bank distributed more than 26 million pounds of food to more than 190,000 people. But poverty surveys estimate that at least 60,000 more people need help in Central and Eastern Kentucky than get it.
"This year, we are on track to distribute 28 million pounds of groceries, about 23.3 million meals to hungry Kentuckians," said Marian Guinn, CEO of the food bank. "As great as that is, and as much as we've grown, there still is a lot of work to be done and a lot of need to be filled."
Just this week, she said, in a meeting with the Fayette County Health Department, a school nurse said that most of the students coming to her aren't sick; instead they're hungry.
"That's just sad," Guinn said. "Now we're looking to see how we can partner with school nurses to do more."
The pilot program at Bryan Station is one way, she said.
"For several years we have had a really strong focus on child hunger. We have many programs that work well for middle school and younger," she said. "But older teenagers are often in situations where they are providing meals for younger siblings as well as themselves. Having a pantry is needed."
Likewise, pantries opened in the last year at the University of Kentucky and at Eastern Kentucky University to help college students, who are paying more for tuition than ever.
"For many students who are piecing together from jobs, student loans and scholarships just the ability to get there, once they are out of the stage where forced to buy a meal plan ... there's a surprising number of students struggling to meet needs as basic as food," Guinn said.
Hunger disproportionately affects children and seniors, she said. Together they account for more than half of the people that the food bank serves. Another 30 percent are either disabled and can't work or have jobs but still live in poverty.
"There's an assumption that the vast majority of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) recipients could be working but aren't," Guinn said. "The vast majority receiving SNAP in Kentucky don't have any other options."
Sixty years after the organization began, "food drive" food makes up less than 1 percent of the bank's total inventory.
The USDA is a significant source of aid to God's Pantry Food Bank, but many donations come directly from the food industry, Guinn said.
"It's coming by the tractor trailer load, not the blue barrel load," she said.
The food distributed has changed, too.
"People think of canned goods, and they are certainly important, but they are by far not the largest portion," Guinn said.
Now more than a third is fresh produce; another significant percentage is frozen food.
"As the food industry changes, we change too," Guinn said. "Fresh and perishable food is kind of where it's at."
God's Pantry has pioneered efforts, like the Farms to Foodbanks program, to get more fresh produce into the hands of people who otherwise couldn't afford healthy options.
And, in its quest to stretch every dollar, the food bank has begun repackaging commodities like rice, cereal and pasta that can be purchased much cheaper by the pallet-load and bagged by volunteers into household-sized containers and distributed through a network of more than 300 non-profits across the area.
Later this summer the food bank will open a third distribution center in Morehead, joining Prestonsburg and London, and the amount of aid going to that part of the state is expected to increase as it becomes easier for local groups to access a stable supply of food.
"I think we see the biggest opportunity in that region for growing and expanding service," Guinn said. "They have the weakest network of agencies — we only have a few in too many of those counties — Elliott being a prime example. If it weren't for direct distributions, there wouldn't really be anything. In some of our poorer counties in Kentucky, there are just not a lot of resources, period."